Opening Ceremonies
Monday, January 11

Listen to the excitement!
also: the song "Take These Wings"
using the free Real Audio player

Story by Eleanor Jones
Photography by Cheri Smith
Audio by Bob Garypie

Watch the video!


Take These Wings
Dusk was falling this chilly evening as transplant recipient athletes from thirteen different countries around the globe, their friends and families, transplantation staff and other supporters gathered just outside the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah for the opening of the 1999 Winter World Transplant Games.

Overhead, an American flag was softly flapping in the breeze. Trees, bare of leaves, lighted from below, appeared ghostly against the white of the snow on the mountainside.

A panel of the (USA) National Donor Family Quilt, handmade by the families of organ and tissue donors, stood behind the podium, serving as a poignant and colorful backdrop. And all around us were the Wasatch mountains, on which the beneficiaries of organ donation would soon demonstrate their health and vigor, celebrating the miracle of transplantation.
Just prior to the start of the ceremony, 105 children from Orchard Elementary School, in Orem, Utah, filed in and climbed onto risers four rows deep, on either side of the podium. Cheers erupted from the crowd as each nation's team appeared, waving their flag and smiling broadly; the biggest cheer was saved for the largest and the last team to enter: Team USA.
The ceremony was emceed by Colleen Horan, the Director of the Games. Ms. Horan spoke warmly and eloquently, welcoming everyone to Salt Lake City for this celebration of courage and determination. The transplant recipients before us were a tribute to the donor families whose generosity during a time of personal crisis saved their lives.

Representing the World Transplant Games Federation was Gary Green, the United States Councillor to the WTGF. Mr. Green read a letter from Mr. Maurice Slapak, the Director of the Federation, in which he expressed his wish that "the sun and snow will be in perfect proportion" for the competition.

Kim Peterson, representing Snowbird, welcomed everyone to the resort and wished the competitors well, saying that it was an honor to have the Games at Snowbird.

The Games exist for the purpose of demonstrating that transplant recipients can and do lead healthy, active lives, and thus to bring public attention to the need for organ donation. Ms. Horan reminded us of the tens of thousands of people around the world currently awaiting organ transplants, and of the many who die every day because an organ does not come soon enough. In the state of Utah alone, 200 people are awaiting transplants; in the U.S., ten to twelve die each day while waiting.

Michael Tucker, a board member of the National Kidney Foundation of Utah, who is also competing in the Games, welcomed everyone to his home state and prompted a loud reaction from the crowd when he asked if there was anyone from his hometown in the crowd: Orem, Utah. All the children from the elementary school, and their parents, cheered loudly. The children then sang a patriotic song about America, with great gusto.
As the sky darkened, the mountains changed in appearance: the rocky outcrops nearly disappeared, and the fields of snow became the only parts of the mountain that were visible; tall pine trees stood majestically, seen in silouhette against the snow. Stars began to appear in the cloudless night sky, and the air grew cooler.
Colleen Horan introduced Kally Heslop, a native of Utah. Ten years ago, Ms. Heslop became critically ill after the birth of her fourth child, and desperately needed a heart transplant. Just as her time was running out and she began to say her goodbyes, a heart was donated by the family of a woman who was killed in an auto accident. "Since her miracle, Kally has not wasted a minute of her 'second chance'" at life, working tirelessly in the field of transplantation and donation.
Ms. Heslop expressed her gratitude to donor families, saying that "we thank you from the bottom of our hearts... and livers... and pancreases..." an athlete called out "Lungs!" She called Jason Ivers, several members of whose family became donors when they were killed in an accident involving a train. Mr. Ivers, representing all donor families for this event, accepted a bouquet of roses, as well as the gratitude of all transplant recipients present.

Ms. Heslop then explained how it was that the children from Orchard Elementary School came to be a part of the opening ceremonies. A year ago when she heard them sing "Take These Wings" in the Salt Lake City symphony hall, she said she found herself sobbing. At that moment vowed that she would arrange for them to sing this song for a transplantation-related event.

As the children softly began singing, the crowd listened intently. Although the air was chilly, our hearts were warmed by the sentiments expressed.
(Listen to the children of Orchard Elementary as they sing these words.)

"I found a sparrow lying on the ground
Her life, I knew, would soon be at an end
I knelt before her as she made a sound
And listened as she said, 'My friend...

'Take these wings and learn to fly
To the highest mountain in the sky
Take these eyes and learn to see
All the things so dear to me.


Take this song and learn to sing
Fill your hearts with love and joy
Take this song and set it free
Let it fly beyond the sea.'

I found another sparrow on the sand
A tiny bird whose life had just begun
I picked him up and held him in my hand
I smiled at him and said, 'My son...

Take these wings and learn to fly...' "

Colleen Horan then formally presented each team, telling how many members and what kind of transplant each athlete had had. Team Denmark was especially festive, pumping their placard above their heads and cheering in Danish. The crowd cheered and applauded each team, but especially the large teams from Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S. The representative from Mauritius received special recognition for having travelled the farthest to be here today.
Brian Rothermel and Diane Wittwer, the outstanding male and female athletes of the 1998 U.S. Winter Games, and the oldest and youngest athletes of the 1999 Games, Karl-Heinz Hinkreksen from Switzerland and Veikko Koski of Finland led all the competitors in the traditional recitation of the athletes' oath.

With the raising of the official flag, Colleen Horan declared the 1999 Winter World Transplant Games OFFICIALLY OPEN!

Following the ceremony, everyone enjoyed a cozy reception and dinner inside the Cliff Lodge. It was a friendly setting in which to celebrate the opening of the Games.



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Last modified: 11 May 2000